Someone I know just lost her father. He passed away after a long illness. She adored him. His hugs were one of the greatest expressions of love in her life. She was naturally devastated when his illness was diagnosed, terrified at the thought of losing him. Grief born out of such love is both the best and the worst experience all at once. A great gift. A great loss.
I was praying for her this morning and felt inclined, or led to pray that she would experience the same love for her Father in heaven. The prayer brought an immediate realization that we all must first be loved by God. We are, of course, first loved by God. But, it is hard to realize it, hard to know it in the same way that we would know our dad’s love.
Last Sunday I taught from Psalm 36, and in that Psalm is the phrase, “Your love reaches to the heavens.” I wonder when David first thought that about God. It doesn’t sound like a theological construct, you know, the right thing to say about God. It sounds like an experience. I wonder if he first thought it while taking care of sheep, maybe even at night as he looked towards the heavens. It’s such an expansive statement. You have to be outside for it to occur to you. You have to see something bigger than you to imagine it.
The apostle Paul had the same sense about God’s love expressed through Christ. That’s why he prayed this for the church in Ephesus:
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge– that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)
How expansive is your experience of God’s love? That question is not supposed to make you feel guilty. Only we dedicated Christians know how to turn an invitation for more of God’s love into a measurement of our spiritual success or failure. Congratulations if you are now feeling guilty for not experiencing enough of God’s love. (Gee, now I’ve got you feeling guilty about feeling guilty.) Our adversary prefers that we feel guilty rather than thirsty. I prefer to be thirsty, desperately so, for the power to know God’s love.
If you have, or had a dad who well expressed his love to you, start there. Your dad’s love is just a hint of God’s love. If your dad wasn’t so good at that, your pain is the hint, because you know what should have been, what will be with God.
I’m sorry that my friend lost her dad. I’m glad that he loved her so well.
The next time you step outside, look up, and if no one is around, reach up as far as you can. Imagine God’s love.